The Royal Earlswood Hospital site is now home to luxury apartments but from the outside it still bears all the hallmarks of a Victorian asylum.

Royal Earlswood: A History has been written and put together by Anne Lea, vice-chairman of the Royal Earlswood Museum committee, to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the hospital.

It is the first complete history to be published, covering the foundation of the institution in 1847 to its closure in 1997.

It provides an insight into life in the asylum, which was opened to help people with learning disabilities in 1855.

In Victorian times many with a learning disability had little chance of developing skills.

But in 1847 a group of philanthropists changed this and set up a charity to create the Asylum for Idiots'.

It was originally based in Highgate, but quickly filled, and in 1850 an 88-acre site was acquired at Earlswood.

A public appeal was launched and following a competition, the design of a Mr Moffat was chosen and a builder's tender for £29,400 was accepted.

The builder was the same Mr Jay who had built the Houses of Parliament.

The building was financed by public subscription and Queen Victoria subscribed 250 guineas in the name of Edward, Prince of Wales, who became a life member. Albert, Prince Consort, laid the foundation stone on June 16, 1853, and in June 1855 opened the asylum.

Before long the number of patients reached 300.

The first medical superintendent at Earlswood was Dr John Langdon Down.

While working at the asylum he identified the condition now known as Down's Syndrome.

It soon became clear the asylum needed to be bigger, so a further appeal was launched and on June 28, 1869, the foundation stone for the extension was laid by Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra. It was completed in 1872.

Admission was by election and patients were usually admitted for a total of five years.

Each subscriber had one vote for each half guinea subscribed and candidates supplied details of their condition and circumstances.

Fee paying patients were accepted without election.

Children were educated as far as possible and then trained in a variety of trades.

Music was encouraged and the hospital had its own band.

The asylum was largely self-sufficient, producing a large quantity of fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy produce.

On July 5, 1948, the hospital ceased to be a charitable institution and was absorbed into the NHS.

Many improvements were carried out, including the building of villas in the grounds in the 1960s, to house patients in smaller communities.

On March 31, 1997, Royal Earlswood closed and the remaining residents were moved into the community. Part of the Royal Earlswood Hospital was purchased by a developer and converted into luxury apartments.

Anne Lea worked at Royal Earlswood for five years before it closed and continues to work with the ex-residents following their resettlement in the community.

She is also a founder member of the Royal Earlswood Museum committee.

Royal Earlswood: A History, priced £10, will be on sale in local libraries (Redhill, Reigate, Merstham and Horley), in East Surrey Hospital library in Maple House and at Crawley Hospital.

It will also be on display in the museum cabinets on car park level one at the Belfry shopping centre, Redhill.

Copies of the book are also available by post from the author (p&p £2).

Cheques for £12, made payable to Anne Lea, can be sent to Kingsfield Resource Centre, Philanthropic Road, Redhill RH1 4DP.

l Information courtesy of the Royal Earlswood Museum.